February 29, 2008
February 28, 2008
Wendell Berry talks about his composting privy.
Michael Silverstein wants more political poetry in the newspapers, which wouldn't be good news for poetry: On the poets’ side, we need a lot less of the post-modern, endlessly introspective, culture for the cognoscenti, self-consciously unstructured work that is geared to winning sinecures, juried prizes, and praise from a tight circle of learned professionals. What’s needed, in other words, is less Percy Dovetonsils and more Percy Shelley. What’s needed is a regular flow of poems about Social Security, the occupation of Iraq, changing tax laws, the current state of political parties, campaign finance reform, pay-to-play government contracting –the gut issues that bring fourth the institutional policies that order public life. We need poetry that enriches national debate, changes points of views, and provides better ways of understanding and altering contemporary political, economic, and social realities.
I wonder if Committing Poetry in Times of War is what he has in mind?
Philip Metres on "the poetics of self-schadenfreude."
Todd Swift reflects on the anniversary of e-publishing 100 Poets Against the War.
William and Dorothy's special relationship.
Finally, one of my students this week mocked up "Ode to a Nightingale" in LOLcat.
A Colorado anti-abortion group is using the theme of "a person's a person, no matter how small," from the children's classic "Horton Hears a Who" for its cause.
With a big screen version of Dr. Seuss's 1954 story slated for release March 14, Colorado for Equal Rights is celebrating the tale's message and petitioning for a ballot measure asking voters to recognize conception as the start of personhood, the Denver Post reported Wednesday.
After Ron Rosenbaum wrote the column at Slate begging Dmitri Nabokov not to burn Vladimir's final novel, Dmitri sent Rosenbaum an e-mail -- "A LONG, SINGLE PARAGRAPH ALL IN ANGRY CAPITAL LETTERS" -- chastising him for bringing so much media attention to a private decision. Rosenbaum decided the best way to respond to this was to write another column about Dmitri and the flammable novel.
There are, evidently, rules about what can go on your bookshelf.
The online conversation generated by Seligman’s and Klein’s remarks has at times reflected a kind of guilt that no really bookish person would feel. For there are, it seems, people who feel stress about owning volumes they haven’t read. Evidently some of them believe a kind of statute of limitations is in effect. If you don’t expect to read something in, say, the next year, then, it is wrong to own it. And in many cases, their superegos have taken on the qualities of a really stern accountant — coming up with estimates of what percentage of the books on their shelves they have, or haven’t, gotten around to reading. Guilt and anxiety reinforce one another.
If you are one of those with guilt and anxiety, just do what I do. If someone asks you if you've ever read X, just say yes. Even if you're lying. If they ask you a follow-up, shrug, look at them like they're the most boring person you've ever met, and make an excuse to refill your drink. No more guilt, no more anxiety.
Attention Time Out Chicago Readers: They have once again screwed up our listing, so please note that our Bookslut Reading tonight is at Clever Alice at 750 N Franklin, and not way up north in the usual Hopleaf venue. I'd hate for you to take the Red Line for nothing.
February 27, 2008
Ireland is a series of stories that have been told to us, starting with the Irish Celtic national revival. I never believed in "Old Ireland." It has been made all of kitsch by the diaspora, looking back and deciding what Ireland is. Yes, it is green. Yes, it is friendly. I can't think of anything else for definite.
Catherynne M. Valente has released volume two of her The Orphan's Tales stories, called In the Cities of Coin and Spice. Ed Park reviews it as part of his Astral Weeks column at the LA Times, comparing her to David Mitchell and Borges. You can read her short story "The Ballad of the Sinister Mr. Mouth" at Lone Star Stories.
The CBC Literary Awards are selected from 5000 submissions of original, unpublished stories, creative non-fiction and poetry. Every year there are winners in both French and English, and CBC Radio has podcasts of each winner available online.
While you're there, check out the Canada Reads Project, which pits five works of Canadian fiction against each other, in weekly radio debates. Each book has been chosen, and will be fought for, by a member of the Canada Reads panel, which this year includes actor Zaib Shaikh, musician Dave Bidini, hip-hop poet Jemeni, author Lisa Moore, and Steve MacLean, who is an astronaut, and gets the rhetorical edge because he's a damn astronaut.
Last thing about my bookshelf, I promise: Omnivoracious asked me to explain why I own those books.
February 26, 2008
You get extra smart points this week at Sticky Pages thanks to Penguin’s Great Loves series. The Great Loves series is Penguin’s third collection of small, beautiful books with the writing of the world’s great thinkers. It began with the Great Ideas series. These books had letter-pressed covers and ran for about ten bucks. Flew off the shelves. Like people could follow Michel de Montaigne or Thomas à Kempis (he’s totally my favorite author), but whatever. It doesn’t matter. The books were pretty and they were cheap. And they made people look smart. Penguin followed the Great Ideas series with the Great Journeys Series, which had equally lovely covers and equally boring-sounding (read: intellectually-stimulating) topics.
I was thinking that the Penguin Great Ideas series would be better left on the bookstore shelf for a girl like me (sort of dense and superficial) and then they released the Great Loves series. They were books about sex, by authors who I’d look totally smart fake-reading!
My favorite of the series is The Eaten Heart: Unlikely Tales of Love by Boccaccio. Boccaccio was an influence on Chaucer. That tells you how smart I feel when I drop Boccaccio’s name in casual conversation. It goes a little like this:
Stranger: Hey, lady, you’re parked in two spots! You suck!
Me: I’m reading Boccaccio! He was an influence on Chaucer!
Stranger: Move your damn car.
The Eaten Heart is a collection of stories ranging from silly -- a woman is so extraordinarily beautiful, a series of men kill her series of lovers only to get killed themselves -- to the downright heartbreaking -- a father kills his daughter’s lover and delivers her the heart. The daughter eats the heart and then kills herself.
There’s passionate sex in each story. And the sex is always between eye-achingly gorgeous women and their equally vagina-achingly well-endowed men.
“To Catch a Nightingale” is a sweet story about a girl who falls in love with her father’s protégé.
Their first conversation:
“‘Caterina, I implore you not to let me die of love for you.’
‘Heaven grant,’ she promptly replied, ‘that you do not allow me to die first for love of you.’”
How cute are these two!
They must consummate their love, but the girl is the father’s pride and joy. She’s never far from his sight. What to do? They decide the girl will sleep on the balcony under the guise of needing the nightingale to sing her to sleep in the hot night. Her lover will climb up to be with her.
Page 43. Night falls.
At every moment of the ascent, he was in serious danger of falling, but in the end he reached the balcony unscathed, where he was silently received by the girl with very great rejoicing. After exchanging many kisses, they lay down together and for virtually the entire night they had delight and joy of one another, causing the nightingale to sing at frequent intervals.
Their pleasure was long, the night was brief and though they were unaware of the fact, it was almost dawn when they eventually fell asleep without a stitch to cover them, exhausted as much by their merry sport as by the nocturnal heat. Caterina had tucked her right arm beneath Ricciardo’s neck, whilst with her left hand she was holding that part of his person which in mixed company you ladies are too embarrassed to mention.
A night full of delicious, first-time sex. A balcony in Italy. Warm air and a bird singing. A darling little short story for the beginning of spring when the days are longer, the flowers are blooming and that girl next to you has shrugged off her heavy coat. Her sun-warmed skin makes you want to climb a balcony and have her handle that part of your person that stands upright when the nightingale sings.
The alarm went off at six the next morning. Bill groaned. Surely no one in their right mind started a new job the day after arriving in a new country? But then he remembered. He wasn't in his right mind. He was in Tony's. A parallel universe of unbelievable stupidity. And short sentences.
With Harry Potter in retirement, the next book by Dan Brown is threatening to become the publishing world's own Holy Grail, both in anticipation of its potentially magical commercial powers and the fact that, for the moment at least, no one but the author himself seems certain when it might materialize.
The publishing industry is appearing a little desperate these days. A little, My eggs aren't getting any younger, maybe I should try a professional matchmaker. Have a little dignity, publishing industry. Maybe you should make yourself feel good -- you know, on the inside -- before the one appears.
Amazon's blog Omnivoracious asked me to take a picture of my bookshelf. They now have it on their website. I chose the one I would have to remove the fewest number of books from, so just for clarity's sake, it's the second shelf on the leftmost bookshelf in my nonfiction section. Also known as "the bedroom."
It turns out you can't create a cultural touchstone just by throwing an elaborate award ceremony.
PW’s parent company, Reed Business Information, has announced plans to suspend support of the Quill Awards program.
The first Quills event took place in October 2005 to celebrate the best in book publishing while promoting the cause of literacy in the U.S. Former Variety publisher Gerry Byrne chaired the Quills Literacy Foundation, which was overseen by an Advisory board made up of 40 members of the publishing and media community.
Garfield minus Garfield: "Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?"
February 25, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Daniel Dominowski
Daniel Dominowski is the editor for Hobson's Choice, a literary journal out of Augusta, GA. Prior to this he completed a six-year enlistment in the United States Army, during which he was able to travel to five countries and experience a wide range of cultures. Daniel grew up as an Air Force brat and lived in many places including South Dakota and The Netherlands, however his adolescence was spent in Wisconsin learning about beer, love and literature. His Discordian beliefs are intertwined with Post-Nihilistic tendencies, which results in a daily struggle to maintain a realistic basis from which to conduct his human relationships. Daniel spoke to Bookslut recently about running (and writing) Hobson's Choice and what he has in store for the little-known journal.
The magazine is currently accepting submissions for its fifth issue–see HC's submission guidelines.
How and when did the idea for Hobson's Choice come about?
It started formulating in the beginning of 2007. I wasn't seeing any local publications that dealt with fiction and art, and I decided to take matters into my own hands. Come around June of that year, I laid it out on my laptop, printed it and few days later, came out of Kinkos with a large stack of magazines to distribute.
How do you fit into the HC scheme? Do you do everything yourself, do you have a small army working the night away?
For all intents and purposes, I am the operation. I do the layouts, the copy-editing, the proofreading and judge the submissions. I manage marketing, distribution and inventory/sales. It's pretty satisfying to look at what's happening and knowing that I'm the force behind it all.
How is HC sustained?
It's non-profit, basically funded out of my own pockets, random donations and sales. I distribute them locally for free, and sell them at cost on the internet. It's easier to recoup a portion of the funding this way, and doesn't restrict it's distribution greatly. The only real subscriptions are from distributors who sell it in different regions, and countries. I toyed around with the idea of selling ad space, but decided that I don't want to water it down.
Can you tell me a bit about Push-Button Apocalypse?
Push-Button Apocalypse is a spin-off of my more personal writing, which is probably less literary (and far less polished). Its maybe only interesting to somebody who might be wanting to get inside my head.
HC focuses on the grittier side of literature. Were you heavily influenced by this type of fiction?
Indeed. I have always been a fan of Irvine Welsh, Hunter S. Thompson, Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, Jerry Stahl and William S. Burroughs. Jerry Stahl said that all his heroes were junkies, and I tend to have the same problem. There is something intrinsically cool about them, despite the fact that you can see that it's bad, morally and physically. Reading about a character who is scum pull from inside himself more humanity than anyone else in a story was what really influenced me. Either that, or I'm scum too, and it's just what I can relate to.
What's in store for the future of HC?
I'm currently planning larger issues with a larger diversity of writing. Probably more poetry, longer works of fiction and more essays and non-fiction. I'm continually expanding the reader base: I just mailed several copies to Portugal to be distributed around Europe, and there are plans for more international distribution in South America and the Pacific realm.
Can we have an end to the religious memoir now, please? We get it. You once believed in god and now you don't. Or you were once a nonbeliever and now you go to church. Congratulations. You're just like most people in the world, you unique little snowflake. Perhaps you can tell us the riveting tale of your weight loss instead?
The Man Booker Prize committee have busted out a new award for old books. The Best of the Booker is an all-out skirmish between the 41 past winners, not unlike the Booker of Bookers, except that the shortlist will be decided by the hoi polloi before being handed over to the judging panel. The Life of Pi is the current favourite for what I will heretofore refer to as The Booker of Booker of Bookers, and Sir Rushdie will be referring to as "playing silly buggers."
Amoz Oz has been named one of the winners of Tel Aviv University's annual Dan David Prize, along with Tom Stoppard, in the category of "Creative rendering of the past: Literature, theater, film". Another winner was Al Gore, although sadly not for his excellent rendering work in PowerPoint.
The winners of the very serious 2007 George W. Polk awards, for very serious US journalism, include a Californian editor Chauncey W. Bailey Jr., who was shot in the process of conducting an inquiry into an Oakland business.
Finally, The Diagram Prize for the year's oddest book title, or as The Bookseller put it, a celebration of the 'quirky charms' of the industry, is open for voting at the website. For less quirk and absolutely none of this interactive voting action, wait a little for the enigmatic Nicholas Mosley Award from the TLS, which goes to the 'most inadvisable title of 2007-2008'. Contenders include Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir, a novel called Random Deaths and Custard, and The Donut: A Canadian History.
February 22, 2008
Plan B Entertainment and Kevin Messick are producing the film. Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman are adapting the screenplay.
Based on a graphic novel by Charlie Burns, the story revolves around a group of high school students whose lives are drastically altered when they come in contact with a sexually transmitted disease called the "teen plague" or "the bug."
For sanity's sake, we're going to do another These Are the Things Jessa Would Read If She Still Had Insomnia. I need to delete some bookmarks, so here you go:
Something called "Master of the Orgasm," and yes, that's the only reason I bookmarked it.
An interview with Susan Faludi about The Terror Dream, as well as a few more extracts
60 Minutes visits the offices of Mad Magazine in the late '80s
Would you like to hear me on the Book Guys radio show, explaining the process behind my blogging? Oh my god, HOW COULD YOU NOT? They were very nice, and I was trying very hard not to swear (success!), and at some point I collapse into giggling. All for your audio enjoyment.
February 21, 2008
John Ashbery, interviewed in Guernica. On being named MTVu's poet laureate: Well, there's a lot of pop in my poetry, so it seems appropriate. A lot of my poetry comes out of popular American culture like comic strips and B movies and song titles and stuff like that.
Lisa Alvarado interviews Juan Felipe Herrera: Oddly, [Chicanos] are perhaps the most misunderstood ethnic group in the U.S. To begin with, we are not immigrants. To end with, a Mexican is always connected to the indigenous history of the Americas. | Watch him read from 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border
Gary Sullivan has an interesting post up about the possible relationship between comics and contemporary poetry, and how that relationship might be made more interesting than the Poetry Foundation's ("brain-dulling, irrelevant, and annoying") "Poem as Comic Strip" Series.
12 or 20 questions with Jennifer Bartlett: I don’t write about race. I’m a boring white girl. Gender has come into my new work as I am writing (in an oblique way) about motherhood and all the difficulties and contradictions that come with that. . . . I also am exploring the idea of alternate movement and the body, as I have cerebral palsy. How the world perceives one’s identity -- or body - - versus our true identity.
Don't miss Robert Archambeau on the "ethics of the post-avant," in which he rounds up many recent posts, reviews, and poems into one pseudo-generational account of contemporary poetry.
And Drunken Boat has launched its ninth issue, with part 2 of the Pan-Literary Awards Competition, a roundtable on whether poetry matters, and an assemblage of "mis/translations".
Eric G Wilson, the author of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, was on Talk of the Nation on Valentine's Day. Irony! Every time I hear him speak on the radio, I feel like he's about to try to soothe me into a cult or a macrobiotic lifestyle. Get the man some caffeine before he does his next audio interview.
If I were drawing strips about the army, I'd lose it. But I'm drawing about monkeys. I can do whatever I want. If I have a thought that's kind of poetic or philosophical I can just go with it. Or if I've got some crazy stupid gag about colon surgery I can do it. Every time I go to the doctor, I get great material.
The 2008 Tournament of Books has commenced at The Morning News.
The hysteria around that past still goes on; the past is the favourite chewing gum of intellectuals, historians, the media, writers and politicians. In Croatia, for instance, the word Yugoslavia is virtually forbidden, the same way Russia and communism are forbidden in Estonia, Lithuania and many other post-communist countries.
Freeman wrote a book for women who actually exist. Women who have to wait for buses in the middle of winter. Women who like to dance at parties, and do not want to have to sit in the corner because their feet are bleeding. She knows that these women live in the real world, where fur is not harvested from free-range chinchillas that all die of natural causes (see “Fur: bad”).
I only wear them around my apartment because they're completely impractical and will cause me to topple over at least once each time I wear them. Freeman has a section in Sunglasses about that. The Guardian has brief excerpts from her book:
Yes, you have breasts - congratulations. Whether squashing them together like two pigs fighting underneath a blanket shows them off to their best advantage is a somewhat debatable point. Whether it adds anything to your outfit is less so because the answer is, no, it doesn't.
February 20, 2008
It’s hard to say how I choose an ad... an unusual kink, or an unusual way of wording something, or just something I think is interesting. I also try to keep moving around sexual orientations. I’ve only used one female/female couple’s ad--they’re hard to find. Everyone wants to fuck them but they’re never “seeking.”
Considering one of the most attractive aspects of the Commonwealth Writer's Prize is its mission to bring international attention to a such a wide-ranging group of authors, last Thursday I committed a real cultural faux pas by omitting the African, Canadian & Caribbean, and South East Asian & South Pacific (where apparently no decent fiction was written outside of Australia) shortlists. Much apologies and forelock-tugging, gentle readers. The full list is below.
Barbara Adair (South Africa) End
Ifeoma Chinwuba (Nigeria) Waiting for Maria
Finuala Dowling(South Africa) Flyleaf
Karen King-Aribisala (Nigeria) The Hangman's Game
Susan Mann (South Africa) Quarter Tones
Zakes Mda (South Africa) Cion
CANADA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Gil Adamson (Canada) The Outlander
Erna Brodber (Jamaica) The Rainmaker's Mistake
Lawrence Hill (Canada) The Book of Negroes
Robert Hough (Canada) The Culprits
Frances Itani (Canada) Remembering the Bones
Michael Ondaatje (Canada) Divisadero
EUROPE AND SOUTH ASIA
David Davidar (India) The Solitude of Emperors
Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan) The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Usha K.R. (India) Girl and a River
Hari Kunzru (Britain) My Revolutions
Nicholas Shakespeare (Britain) Secrets of the Sea
Indra Sinha (India) Animal's People
SOUTH EAST ASIA AND SOUTH PACIFIC
Steven Carroll (Australia) The Time We Have
Sonya Hartnett (Australia) The Ghosts Child
Sarah Hopkins (Australia) The Crimes of Billy Fish
Mireille Juchau (Australia) Burning In
Michelle De Kretser (Australia) The Lost Dog
Alex Miller (Australia) Landscape of Farewell
Alain Robbe-Grillet, who has died aged 85 after cardiac problems, was revered by some and accepted by others, as the master of the nouveau roman - the new novel.
February 19, 2008
We all have our one. That one celebrity who haunts our dreams, whose face we conjure during those quiet moments in the act when our partner is probably fantasizing about his or her one. Mine is Ice Cube. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Though I’ll take Friday Ice Cube too. I’ll even don Lucite pumps and a faux leather g-string for Are We There Yet Ice Cube. That’s the thing about our one. When this person says, like Ice Cube has, that Pretty Woman is his favorite movie, we say, well, Julie Roberts did set an impossible, yet accessible goal for America’s young women.
Ice Cube might be a media mogul, what with his music and his charming family movies, but he has yet to publish any literary fiction (to my knowledge). So who’s my one writer? Who’s the one whose books I crack open when I need to seduce some unwitting pawn in the grand game that is my life? Who do I turn to when I need to remember that love is crushing and heartbreaking and that it’s totally normal to be lying in bed wiping tears from my eyes with bunched up toilet paper because the world is just that cruel that as a writer, my budget is limited to toilet paper and not tissue, especially not aloe-laced Kleenex brand tissue. I want to lie in bed and mourn the loss of my high school boyfriend because it feels good to be 32-years old and do this, you know?
So whose books do I open to validate this behavior? Italo Calvino. Italo Calvino is my one. I vacillate between Invisible Cities and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. I always remember Invisible Cities as the most romantic book ever printed, and then I read it and realize it’s a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. I put it down and forget that little plot point, and return to believing that love is defined within its pages.
But if I need to break out the big guns, if I need to really feel my heart pummeled in my chest by the loss of a lover whose apartment I can’t really remember and who was sort of lackluster in bed, but gawd, I am crushed that after two months, eight years ago, things sort of fizzled out, I reach for If on A Winter’s Night a Traveler.
I pick up If on A Winter’s Night a Traveler because it satisfies my righteous anger at this mostly faceless lover -- p. 87 “The real revolution will be when women carry arms.” Alanis ain’t got nothing on Calvino’s feminine rage.
And Calvino reminds me that there are men out there who truly appreciate a woman’s body, unlike the poor sap I’m railing against.
Ahem, to page 206 everyone.
“What aroused my interest in Madame Miyagi’s breast was the circle of prominent papillae, of a thick or minute grain scattered on the surface of an areola of considerable extension, thicker at the edge but with outposts all the way to the tip. Presumably each of these papillae commanded sensations more or less sharp in the receptivity of Madame Miyagi, a phenomenon I could easily verify by subjecting them to slight pressure, localized as much as possible, at intervals of about a second, while observing the direct reactions in the nipple and the indirect ones in the lady’s general behavior, and also my own reactions, since a certain reciprocity had clearly been established between her sensitivity and mine. I conducted this delicate tactile reconnaissance not only with my fingertips but also by arranging in the most suitable fashion for my member to glide over her bosom with a grazing and encircling caress, since the position in which we had happened to find ourselves favored the encounter of these diversely erogenous zones of ours, and since she indicated her liking and her encouragement by authoritatively guiding these routes.”
Wow. That’s not even the full paragraph. But somehow I feel better knowing that there is one man in this world who sees a breast and doesn’t think, simply, lunch. No, Calvino sees the minutia of women, he considers our bodies and writes prose about them. He meditates on the female form, and he gives us guns. Guns!
I’m sure Ice Cube would have given me a gun in his younger days. Just like he would have murmured in my ear about backing my ass up over there, and I would have liked that just as much as whole paragraphs about the bumps on my nipples. But I wonder at the new Ice Cube. I wonder if it came down to a war of passion between I.C. and I.C. (weird, I know), who would win my heart. I don’t think I’d be able to decide. And that’s why god invented three-ways.
The NY Times' article about Susan Jacoby and her new book The Age of American Unreason is still one of the most e-mails articles on the site. (Jezebel: "Could it beat out What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage? Only time will tell!") It makes her sound a bit like she's one of the complainers "Back in my day... these young whippersnappers..." etc etc, so instead of reading it, watch her interviewed by Bill Moyers.
The Washington Post tries to figure out who is behind Paranoia Magazine.
Hidell admitted that he doesn't believe all the conspiracy theories advanced in the pages of Paranoia. For instance, he's a little skeptical of Icke's theory that the queen of England and the Rockefellers are really shape-shifting Satanic reptiles from outer space. But then he adds this about Icke: "For all we know, he's putting all that in purposely so people think he's just a nut and he can keep publishing."
The Poetry Foundation profiles the utterly fantastic Ugly Duckling Presse.
This art & publishing collective was founded in 1993 by “a couple of college kids who wanted to put together a zine, without really knowing what that is.” Fifteen years later, this humble do-it-yourself-Xeroxed-project-beginning matured into a reputable and cutting-edge enterprise that publishes poetry by undiscovered voices, lost works, translations and artist’s books.
February 18, 2008
The former operations manager of the Oxford American literary magazine is facing jail time after being arrested for allegedly embezzling at least $30,000 from the Arkansas-based non-profit publication.
“This is a hurtful kick we sustained,” founder and editor Marc Smirnoff tells FOLIO:. Oxford American is located on the University of Central Arkansas campus. “We’re a poor non-profit. Losing $5 hurts. She essentially emptied our bank account, so we have to rebuild from scratch.”
She tried "Harry Potter." It wasn't, she said, her cup of tea.
The Oregonian talks to Beverly Cleary.
Trend story! The hottest new thing is "hic lit." Not about Red States, don't be silly. Red states don't exist in publishing unless the author moved to New York and paid penance for once living in a rural area. No, it means "alcoholism memoirs" and this is the best name they could come up with.
Samantha Power has a new book -- Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World -- and a new job. She's a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. She talks to Leigh Flayton about how being a journalist led to working in politics.
His office called me when he began serving in the U.S. Senate in early 2005. He had just read "A Problem From Hell" and wanted to meet to discuss fixing American foreign policy. I thought, "Well that's interesting -- clearly he's in some other league." I mean, who spends Christmas reading a dark book on genocide?
Jenny Diski has a blog! I have been loving her reviews at London Review of Books for some time, and I just decided to Google her. I usually save my LRBs for Sunday rituals, but if I see the trifecta on the cover -- Andrew O'Hagan, August Kleinzahler, and Jenny Diski -- I'll stop whatever I'm doing. Here's her archive at LRB, a good bit of it available free, so you too can become slightly obsessive.
February 15, 2008
Tom Stoppard weighs in on the burn it/don't burn it debate about Nabokov's unfinished work: "It’s perfectly straightforward: Nabokov wanted it burnt, so burn it."
Sudhir Venkatesh talks to the Guardian about his new book Gang Leader for a Day and the perils of sending college kids to Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes.
The first time Sudhir Venkatesh witnessed a drive-by shooting, he remained upright while everyone around him dropped to the pavement... Some of the residents, concerned or even embarrassed that this outsider could have been killed during one of his regular visits, began training Venkatesh in drive-by preparedness. "They went through a series of exercises with me," he says, "breaking Coke bottles so I would get used to the popping sound and start bending my knees."
If someone could clone Hadley Freeman and lend her to me when I go shopping, that would be great. (Also helpful: a pocket-sized Tim Gunn. Get on it, science.) Her new book The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable is the smartest goddamn thing I have read on fashion. It was refreshing to read an entire book about clothes that did not once make me feel embarrassed. I could even read it on the El and not feel like a fool. Now I have to read the entire online archive of her advice column at the Guardian, where she offers reality checks to all sorts of absurd fashionable notions.
But hark! What's this I hear? That high heels actually serve a medical good? So it would seem. According to a story in a Sunday newspaper, a recent scientific survey showed that wearing high heels helps to "relax pelvic floor muscles which will aid sexual arousal". Leaving aside the suspicion that this is the sort of cobblers that gets chucked in by a desperate editor on a slow Saturday and allows him, almost legitimately, to brighten up the page with a picture of a sexy lady, several other issues come to mind. First, one wonders if all the health disadvantages of high heels (bunions, cracked heels, worn-out knee joints) might prove an impediment to a woman getting any action at all, let alone pleasure from the activity ("Ooh baby - ow! Oh dear, there goes my knee").
February 14, 2008
Remember Saw Wai? He's the Burmese poet jailed for writing a poem mocking the leader of Mynamar's military junta. As an act of solidarity/protest, A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz has assembled a chapbook of poems entitled Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe. Each poem incorporates the words that resulted in Saw Wai's arrest. It's available as a free .pdf through the Anti- website.
An anti-Valentine's Day poetry contest.
Robert Creeley on his love poetry and other topics. Includes a voice-recognition robot reading his works.
Did Coleridge translate Goethe's Faust?
Ok--am off to see the mouse. Imagineered fun on an imaginary holiday!
Giles Turnbull has some problems writing his byline.
“Giles Turnbull was raised by his mother in a coastal town. He attended a good school but didn’t really excel at anything except writing, which might go some way to explaining how he ended up writing third-person biographies of himself on a rainy January morning.”
Happy Valentine's Day, cynics.
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: The principal investigator met, courted, and wed a female test subject for the purposes of this experiment. After eight years of measurably blissful marriage, testing of the hypothesis began in earnest.
Also: Sexual Fables examines the theories as to why Jane Austen never married.
I have had my copy of The Burning of Bridget Cleary for years, but every time I thought I might read it, I'd remind myself it was about a woman who was burned to death because they thought she was a fairy. Her fairy-like qualities being stylishness, flirtiness, etc. I started reading it last night as it seemed like a natural follow-up to the reading I have been doing about Germany's witch hunts. Bourke was interviewed at The Wag:
Calling someone a changeling was a way of denying that they were a person, but that takes on a very different complexion when you're dealing with a fully-functioning adult, so it's not surprising that there was a criminal trial. In fact, though, there was at least one other case of an adult being killed as a fairy changeling: what I say in the book is that Bridget Cleary was the only one burned. Just a year later, in County Roscommon, a disturbed and suicidal young man was beaten to death by members of his family. He had been observed visiting a local fairy-fort. A murder trial was held in that case too, but the killers were sent to a lunatic asylum, not to jail.
I need to go look at some pictures of puppies now.
Apart from the capacity to learn Coronation Street plotlines as if by osmosis, and a rabid dedication to milky tea, I've never noticed much advantage to being a citizen of the Commonwealth. But the Empire somehow wobbles on, and its cultural debris produce strange and occasionally rich rewards, like the Commonwealth Writer's Prize, which represents authors from 46 countries which still have the Queen's phizog all over their currency.
The 2008 shortlisted authors are:
David Davidar for The Solitude of Emperors
Mohsin Hamid for The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Usha K.R. for Girl and a River
Hari Kunzru for My Revolutions
Nicholas Shakespeare for Secrets of the Sea
Indra Sinha for Animal's People
Priya Basil for Ishq and Mushq
Catherine O'Flynn for What was Lost
Jeremy Page for Salt
J M Shaw for The Illumination of Merton Browne
Shandana Minhas for Tunnel Vision
Tahmima Anam for A Golden Age
The Jewish Book Council has named this year's recipient of the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The $100,000 award winner is Lucette Lagnado for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.
Fabulists, take note -- 'the 2009 prize will be awarded to a writer of fiction.'
The Stonewall Book Awards 2008 are out, with Mark Doty's Dog Years: A Memoir winning the nonfiction award and author Ellis Avery won the fiction award for her novel The Teahouse Fire, which also comes with modern literature's best matching tea set.
February 13, 2008
20th Century Fox has initiated a legal battle against Warner Bros. over the rights to develop, produce and distribute a film based on the graphic novel "Watchmen."
On Friday, the studio sued Warners, claiming it holds the exclusive copyrights and contract rights to "Watchmen."
If this lawsuit can prevent the movie from coming out, Alan Moore fans can probably sleep a bit more easily.
I think I slightly scared the man interviewing me for the Daily Nebraskan article about Bookslut. I was weirdly excited at that moment to be talking to someone in Lincoln, Nebraska. "Oh hi! You're from Lincoln, Nebraska! I'm from Lincoln, Kansas! Everyone thought I was really from Lincoln, Nebraska, because no one has ever heard of Lincoln, Kansas because only like five people live there! Hi!" I think I had just had two cups of coffee before he called. Either way, here's the article he had to write, poor guy, and I love the illustration, and they talked to our poetry columnist Dale Smith, whom I also love. I have no caffeine excuses for this post, just general happiness about places called Lincoln.
The Coen brothers are to take on Pulitzer-prize winning author Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policeman's Union, about an alternate-reality Alaska.
It turns out the Chicago chefs of Alinea and Moto aren't so original after all. Back in 1932, F.T. Marinetti produced The Futurist Cookbook that beats out all of the pillows of lavender air and frozen nitrogen creations and edible menus that I tend to blow my money on. Tony Perrottet gives us a peak at Marinetti's bizarre creations.
Pieces of olive, fennel, and kumquat are eaten with the right hand while the left hand caresses various swatches of sandpaper, velvet, and silk. At the same time, the diner is blasted with a giant fan (preferable an airplane propeller) and nimble waiters spray him with the scent of carnation, all to the strains of a Wagner opera.
I am so doing this at my next dinner party. Where do I get a propeller?
One thing I'm very aware of is the trope that seems present in so many books written by older male writers: J.M. Coetzee, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Philip Roth — and you see it in Woody Allen films — old men and relatively young women. You know on some level it's just a stupid fantasy, or celebrity buying access to beauty, nothing more complicated than that. But on some other level it's sort of beautiful or moving or profound, like a death's head holding a flower. It's like, as this body is stepping toward death it wants to touch life again one last time. On some level it's just men colonizing women's bodies and one doesn't want to romanticize it because sometimes it's really fucked up.
When the NBCC announced its finalists for this year's awards, they also announced the winner of their annual Balakian award. My first thought: what the hell is a Balakian? I sent our intrepid awards reporter Margaret Howie to talk to this year's winner, Sam Anderson, who writes reviews that make me snort my tea from laughing. - Jessa
Nona Balakian was a devoted reader and biographer of William Saroyan, who called himself ‘the greatest writer in the world’; are there any authors you would defend if they pulled the same stunt?
I’ve been waiting for ten years to publicly quote this passage from Thomas Carlyle, and you’ve given me the perfect opportunity:
“the truly strong mind … is nowise the mind acquainted with its strength; … the sign of health is Unconsciousness. … The Shakespeare takes no airs for writing Hamlet and The Tempest, understands not that it is anything surprising: Milton, again, is more conscious of his faculty, which accordingly is an inferior one. On the other hand, what cackling and strutting must we not often hear and see, when, in some shape of academical prolusion, maiden speech, review article, this or the other well-fledged goose has produced its goose-egg, of quite measurable value, were it the pink of its whole kind; and wonders why all mortals do not wonder!”
In other words, Saroyanesque cackling and strutting automatically disqualifies a writer from greatness, and I could never defend anyone weak enough to indulge in it. (I feel an irresistible urge right now to declare this the greatest answer in the history of Bookslut interviews.)
My short, straight, and boring answer is No: We don’t have a unanimous old-school giant (Tolstoy / Dickens / Joyce / Hemingway) dominating the scene -- partly because the wider culture doesn’t seem to support literary gigantism anymore. There’s Philip Roth of course: if he’d claimed supremacy ten years ago, no one could have argued with him. (I guess he sort of did claim it, symbolically, by moving to an isolated mountaintop and winning every award in existence.) Now we’ve got scattered pods of isolated super-talents. Probably the only way to settle the “greatest of all” question would be to hold some kind of textual decathlon that measured, numerically, the top writers’ skills in all the various sub-categories of greatness: plot, character, metaphor, narrative voice, etc. We could have a ranking system, like in chess. I’d love to see Michael Chabon in a head-to-head metaphor showdown with Junot Díaz.
The Balakian Citation was created to recognise the ‘General interest reviewer’; which is harder – to be general, or interesting? Is it tricky to write about books for an audience who may not be reading any of them?
This is a really fascinating and difficult question, so I’m going to cop out of it immediately: “general” and “interesting,” as I understand them, are almost inseparable demands. It’s easy to be interesting when you’re writing for a tiny audience (e.g., your friends, or Midwestern Chaucerians), because your readers are already inherently interested. The bigger that audience gets, the trickier it is to catch and hold everyone’s attention. I like that challenge—I try to make my writing hit on enough levels that it’ll entertain and inform a fairly diverse crowd, which I imagine includes subway commuters, grad school professors, people on Stairmasters, my grandparents, other book critics, my old high school classmates, the janitors I cleaned urinals with in college, and of course Victorian Englishmen who have accidentally ended up here via time machines and are browsing back issues of New York magazine at a doctor’s office (to get their consumption checked). I believe that every time a book reviewer writes a boring sentence an archangel gets fed, headfirst, to a gorgon—and that by now rampant obesity is causing all kinds of health problems in the gorgon community.
As for writing for an audience that hasn’t read the book, I think that’s just the natural state of book reviewing. Critics tend to live in the future: we read books 2-8 months before they’re available to normal humans. (We also ride around on hoverboards and have digital hairdos and know who the next president will be.) This is how we publish reviews right when a book hits the shelf. So I have to assume that my readers haven’t read the book yet. As for whether they will eventually read it, who knows? If I love a book, I try to convey my enthusiasm with such coercive bullying effervescence that the reader will immediately run out, in any kind of weather, and buy it. But I don’t know how many purchases I’ve actually inspired, or prevented. I’d love to see that statistic. I’m guessing three. Though now that I think about it, I did review the final Harry Potter. Who knows how that book would have done if I hadn’t weighed in?
Ongoing criticism of awards like the Man Booker accuses the literary award game of increasing the divide between readers and critics, and of alienating potential audiences. Do you think the big awards have any useful cultural function?
I do. Over the last 100 years we’ve seen a massive reorganization of popular attention—and naturally, one of the bigger victims has been literature, which takes exponentially longer to consume than screen-based entertainment. So literary culture is desperate for attention, and an award is a legitimate way to create it. Now of course there’s much to debate about the ethics of dispensing that attention—the nature of it, its proper distribution, etc. But the notion of an egalitarian, award-less book culture strikes me as silly. Plus I’m competitive, which means I like to win things, and also to insult people who win things instead of me. This would be impossible without awards.
Do you see any parallels with the current upheaval in the music industry and in the future of the business of printing and selling little paper-bound lumps of text?
Totally. Big time. Majorly. Yes
Are there any canonical books you’d approach like a food critic would approach eating a durian?
I looked up “durian” on Wikipedia and found that it’s an Asian fruit whose odor (according to the travel writer Richard Sterling) “is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.” (Others have suggested sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray, and used surgical swabs.) This immediately brought to my mind … well … I’m almost definitely going to lose my job for saying this, and get expunged from the NBCC, and my tiny children will be forced to tapdance on the street for food—but … Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. I’ve never been more underwhelmed by a consensus great novel. It has this oppressive clumsiness—in the style, in the plot, in the general angle of attack—that I don’t think is fully excused by its merits, and that somehow never gets mentioned in the seven trillion panegyrics published daily about Bellow as the greatest stylist in the history of literacy, and Augie as the greatest American novel since Gatsby. Line by line, chapter by chapter, I find the book totally aversive. I know this means there’s something wrong with my brain, but I might as well admit it. Though I should also say that apparently the durian—once you get past its smell—is delicious, and analogously, if I hold the breath of my instinctive aesthetic response and get inside of Augie, there are many sentences and moments that I love. But the smell is usually enough to keep me away.
Let me go ahead and undermine whatever tiny scrap of critical credibility I have left by also admitting that, although I love Faulkner deeply, and I love big reader-shredding Modernist experiments, I’ve never been able to finish Absalom, Absalom! The bombast / payoff ratio strikes me as fundamentally out of whack. There: now your shameless badgering has destroyed my reputation completely.
Which other critics do you read?
Contemporaries: Stephen Metcalf at Slate, Walter Kirn at the NYTBR, Adam Kirsch at the NY Sun, and of course James Wood wherever he happens to be.
For a list of my all-time favorites, as well as a dramatic picture of myself in a striped sweater, click here.
There are enough 9/11 novels to choke a Clydesdale on. Where’s the great big book on the Iraq conflict?
I think the novelists are waiting to see how it ends. I mean, you’d hate to get caught writing a huge uplifting life-affirming epic based entirely on how well the war is going now, only to have it take a bad turn somewhere down the road—which, I know, seems unlikely, but novelists tend to be more fair-minded, cautious, and responsible than your average person. So I’m guessing they’re just going to wait it out. Probably some great novelist of our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s generation will write it.
Would you ever read a novel on a cell phone?
If I had a spare twenty minutes in a doctor’s office, and were slightly more limber, I would read a novel written in microscopic ink on a rectal thermometer. Newfangled media tend not to bother me: devices (like genres) impose strict and interesting limits on what art can do—and if artists can’t manage to be irresistible within those strict limits, then no one will read the work, and the mode of delivery will die out. (This is what happened to the Skywriting Novel.) I do think it’s fascinating to watch the literary novel—this big sprawling receptacle of expansive human slowness—get pressed into new shapes by the (unreasonable, inevitable, unrelenting) demands of modern popular attention. And I think it will survive that pressure, whether on screens or on paper, because it was born out of it (cf. Dickens). There’s always been hysteria about the Future of the Novel, and yet somehow the novel has always had a future. I thought Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao managed to swallow, very intelligently and movingly, all the evil forces that are supposed to be destroying our brains.
I think the paper book will survive until something undeniably better comes along—and then we won’t mind, because whatever it is will be undeniably better. For now, I’m confident that nothing in the world, short of cataclysm, will ever separate me from my paper library: I love how it looks and feels and smells, and I’ve got many thousands of words written in its margins, and all of my favorite passages of Carlyle are clearly marked for future interviews. I do use my Kindle every day, but usually just to read the newspaper. I have no sentimental attachment to newsprint.
You apologised for an error made in the review of The Almost Moon, on behalf of yourself and other critics in the same boat – are there any other critical crimes you’d like to make up for? (Feel free to ask for absolution on behalf of other writers.)
New York magazine has a large army of diligent and hyper-earnest fact-checkers who work, constantly and heroically, to prevent me from making obvious errors in every other sentence. Occasionally they even manage to stop me from exaggerating and flat-out making things up. (My all-time favorite fact check was when I got an urgent call one night asking how I knew that Donald Barthelme had invented bat-flatulence, or “batulence,” as I called it. Which is funny because it’s so obviously from a standard biology textbook about bats.) So other than the Sebold mistake, which still totally baffles me, I believe I have been perfectly accurate and correct. In fact, I’m probably the most accurate and correct writer in the history of reviewing.
The real “critical crimes,” as you put it, are much worse than factual errors, and much harder to avoid: reading too quickly, reading too slowly, reading too narrowly, reading too widely, reading with a closed mind, reading with an open mind, neglecting a writer, paying attention to a writer, lack of imagination, boring the reader, trusting your gut, over-trusting your gut—it goes on forever, and there’s no absolution for any of it, and we just have to pray for mercy when the great Final Critic in the sky (i.e., Edmund Wilson) passes judgment at the end of the Ultimate Deadline (i.e., impales us on an extremely sharp quill pen the moment our souls undergo metaphysical abridgment). (Book critics have a whole elaborate theology, kind of like Scientology, that I probably shouldn’t get into here.)
What are you looking forward to reading in 2008?
Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, Aleksandr Hemon’s The Lazarus Project, Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States, my friend David Samuels’ essay collection Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Nicholson Baker has apparently written a history of the build-up to WWII that I’m very curious about. I enjoyed A.L. Kennedy’s Day, which I was looking forward to reading a couple of months ago, but then I read it, so technically I’m not looking forward to reading it anymore. I’m currently reading (and enjoying) Jhumpa Lahiri’s new one. There are more, but I can’t think of them right now.
February 12, 2008
The best news I've heard today: Alex Cox is writing a graphic novel sequel to Repo Man (which I'm pretty sure I have here somewhere, on VHS of course). It's called Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday and it's out in March.
Eleanor sighed. If only she was 20 years younger. Then she might have had some fun in a pacy Aga saga. As it was, the writer had begun to take herself rather too seriously and she was stuck with the job of being the older woman who dispensed statements of the obvious as if they were pearls of wisdom, in a story in which not much happened.
The Romantic Novelist's Association's Romantic Book of the Year 2008 has been announced. The winner is Freya North's Pillow Talk (which seems to be waiting for a proper US release). For the record, the RBY gets you £1,000 and a little perspex star.
The Romantic Prize of the Year 2008, from a shortlist dominated by Mills and Boon, went to Kate Hardy for Breakfast at Giovanni's, who received what appears to be a whimsically oversized salt shaker. Giovanni's seems to also be wanting for an American release, but in the mean time you can work through Hardy's backlist; she does a nice number in pregnant mistresses and Mediterranean doctors.
The Essence Magazine Literary Awards were announced last week. Readers voted L.A. Banks the Storyteller of the Year -- look out for a suitably shiny sticker on the covers of your future Vampire Huntress novels. Other winners include Tracy K. Smith's poetry collection, Duende, and the book voted Most Likely To Make Margo Cry Based On Dust Jacket Alone, Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying.
The first of their annual Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Terry McMillan, who won the magazine's college-writing contest in 1974. McMillan's next project is a sequel to Waiting to Exhale titled Getting to Happy, which is destined to feature more eating, praying, and loving than Elizabeth Gilbert haters dare dream of.
Full list of winners:
Poetry: Duende by Tracy K. Smith
Current Affairs: An Unbroken Agony by Randall Robinson
President's Award: Reposition Yourself by T.D. Jakes
Photography: Daufuskie Island by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe
Children's Book: Marvelous World: Book One - The Marvelous Effect by Troy Cle
Memoir: Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat
Non-fiction: Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas by Michael Fletcher and Kevin Merida
Inspiration Award: Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life by Tony Dungy
Lifetime Achievement Award: Terry McMillan
Fiction: The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Storyteller of the Year: L.A. Banks
Atlantic Monthly has made their website free to non-subscribers, and I have to admit I was a little excited, since I had let my subscription lapse after Langewiesche left. Let's see what they have for us!
Every woman I know—no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure—feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.
Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.
Now Atlantic, I know, think they're being cute or edgy when they put up traditional values nonsense written by women. It just pains me that Lori Gottlieb -- an ana no less -- is getting paid to tell other women they really need men (and the rest of the article continues to tell us we should settle for anything with a penis). Do we need to teach a class? Just Because You Experience Something Does Not Mean All Women Do. Atlantic, where the fuck do you find these women?
February 11, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Ayun Halliday
Ayun Halliday writes, draws, edits, and drops copies of The East Village Inky in mailboxes four times a year. She's the mother superior of Bust, she's contributed to Bitch, and she's been featured in countless anthologies (speaking of which, go dig up her piece on the origins of The East Village Inky in Mamaphonic!). Halliday is also the author of four fabulously self-depricating autobiographies, including No Touch Monkey! and Job Hopper. You can read samples of her zine, her food blog, and keep up with the everyday trials and tribulations of her life at her website.
When did you get the idea to do The East Village Inky?
In the summer of 1998, Greg and I took our daughter to Glasgow to attend the wedding of a friend who was teaching a performance workshop at the Center for Contemporary Art. It was my vision that both he and I would participate in this 3-week workshop, taking turns dandling our soon-to-be-one-year-old daughter while the other was onstage or actively involved in an exercise. Three days in, it became painfully obvious that this was a ludicrously ill-conceived experiment, and as the resident lactator, it fell to me to bow out before the presence of our chittering kid could further compromise the other participants' experience. It's not uncommon for artsy, underfunded, first-time parents to experience a real crisis of identity around the one-year mark, but that pill left a particularly bitter taste in a country where I knew no one other than the aforementioned one-year-old with whom to pass the time while Greg and the bride were off pushing their creative boundaries with all sorts of interesting people who had no context for knowing me as anything other than a really devoted wife and mother. (Desperately lonely and starving for community, I took to showing up on their breaks, toting Inky and a sack lunch for Greg.)
To avert serious meltdown, I needed to find something that I could do in the company of the baby that would approximate the experience of performing self-referential, low-budget, late-night theater on the cheap to an audience of paying strangers. Thus was The East Village Inky born. Everything about it was dictated by the unpredictability of my daughter's nap schedule. The originals had to be something I could whip out of my purse on a moment's notice - that's why it's hand drawn, handwritten and small. I didn't want to spend the whole nap trying to figure out how to format something on the computer, and besides, she was a sling baby prone to conking out many blocks from home. I found myself ducking into cafes, or plopping down on the nearest park bench. I spent two hours in a subway station once, scribbling away, willfully oblivious to the funny looks I was getting from other transit system users.
Had you any background in zinemaking before that?
No. I had stumbled across a couple of zines, including Ashley Parker Owens' mail art resource Global Mail, which hinted at a greater world beyond, but it wasn't a part of my friends' and my world. Eventually, I got hold of a copy of Fact Sheet 5 and would pore over the listings, thinking, "I'm gonna make me some of that!" But I could never find a subject compelling enough to sustain that sort of long-term project, until that baby came along with her highly specific ball and chain.
You have quite the repertoire: zinemaking, food writing, travel writing, career writing, BUST, BITCH, MAMAPHONIC... how do you manage it all? It seems all around daunting, scary, and exciting!
Really? I was just reading Chuck Klosterman IV, and thinking, "Man, THAT'S the life for a writer to have!"
It helps that I live in semi-squalor in a really small, but more or less affordable apartment, that my children go to public school right across the street, and that Greg laid a golden egg a few years back with Urinetown. The royalties of high school, college, and community productions of that play make it possible for us to keep scratching away in bohemian splendor without having to sacrifice time and energy to day jobs. It may end soon, but I just keep fiddling away with my big, old grasshopper legs, praying that it never does. Day jobs aside, it must be said that the kids excel at leaching the energy from our very bones, but I try not to lose sight of the fact that we are first and foremost very, very lucky bumblers.
I do wish that I'd gotten cracking earlier, before I had kids. I fantasize about what it would be like to be in a situation where I'd have a little less freedom creatively, to have someone who would wave money in my face and say, "Here, fly to LA, check into a nice hotel, and spend a week writing a humorous, warts-and-all profile of Tom Waits for next month's cover."
That said, at the end of the day, there's a lot of satisfaction in being the little brown hen.
Any tips for zinesters starting out in 2008?
Don't spend too much time dicking around on the Internet, trying to see if people are reading your zine and what they're saying about it.
Embrace the limitations of that which can be mailed in a greeting card-sized envelope with a 41-cent stamp.
Make it easy for people to order your zine. Get the word out, and before you know it, your PO box will be bursting at the seams! Don't forget to send your old pal, Ayun Halliday, a copy at PO Box 22754, Brooklyn NY 11202! Nothing beats the thrill of mail you can hold in your hand.
And student zinesters should encourage their school's drama departments to consider mounting a production of Urinetown, as soon as possible.
What are you working on now?
I'm endeavoring to squeeze out a novel in an undisclosed, underground bunker.
I also developed some fancy ideas about penning children's books as a way to keep our little raft afloat a bit longer, financially-speaking. Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo will be published by Hyperion in the spring of 2009, but my second attempt is meeting with some resistance from editors who find the humor a bit too adult. That bums me out because when I was a kid I loved things like Charles Adams cartoons and Lucy and Charlie Brown hanging around the psychiatry booth, discussing the probable cause of his depression.
Did your approach to writing differ between your autobiographies?
Hmm, not too significantly.
The Big Rumpus mostly describes events as they were unfolding, whereas No Touch Monkey required a bit of memory refreshment, pawing through old guidebooks, journals, photographs and the like. (How mortifying to rediscover what a crappy photographer I was.)
By the time Job Hopper rolled around, my younger child had started school, so I had a larger daily window of opportunity to write. Most of that time was frittered away on the Internet, toddling over to see what was new at the Salvation Army or wandering around in circles with my arm jammed inside a box of Honey Nut Cheerios.
Dirty Sugar Cookies felt like a mash up of the three prior experiences.
All four books were edited by Leslie Miller, a collaboration that started out great, and just kept snowballing, until we started feeling like we were hanging out in the bad girl's bathroom, smoking and egging each other on. She left Seal Press to found Girl Friday, a free-ranging resource for authors, with her fellow former-Seal editor, Ingrid Emerick. My dream is that whosoever purchases the novel will say, "Here's some money. Why don't you hire that red head you're so fond of to fix this fucker for you?" Naturally, that dream is predicated on the dream of someone purchasing the novel at all.
How do you feel you've changed as a writer over the years?
Isn't that for the reader to say? My typing speed is way up and my forehead's starting to look like a Shar-Pei's, but otherwise, it's your call, bub.
"Harlequin wants a romance novel centered around the organic foods craze."
The 92Y blog has the full video of the debate between Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Christopher Hitchens. I feel bad even linking to it. It's Monday morning, and it is one degree out. Perhaps you should skip it, and take a Zola book into the bathtub. Because it's interesting, but neither is listening to the other, and nothing new or important is being said. The only thing I learned from it is there is a book that exists called The Broken American Male: And How to Fix Him. The plan seems to include giving up pornography. Like I said, nothing new.
Having grown up in Miami, I don’t really count as Southern, but I’ve grown so weary of listening to Pashmina-draped publishing types hold forth on Red America (by which they really mean Texas) at cocktail parties that I fantasize about carrying a can of Skoal in my bra so I can whip it out at strategic points with a thick and lingering “y’all don’t mihhhnd, do you? Wouldja lihhhke suhhme?”
The girls’ books, which have a combined 1.6 million in print, do something entirely different: rather than hark back to — heaven forbid! — bygone days, they evoke nostalgia for a time that has yet to be: a girlhood that we mothers may wish we’d had but didn’t, one that we hope will prepare our daughters to be the kind of women we’re not sure we were fully able to become. Each book reflects a different vision of feminism, femininity and girlhood, but at its heart is a desire — or perhaps the fervent hope — for girls to have it both ways: to be able to paint their nails and break them too; to embrace whatever it might be that makes them girls in a way that will sustain rather than constrain them.
Are we still talking about the Kindle? Evidently. But Rachel Friedman brings up a good point: if we start traveling with electronic books, what will happen to those lovely paperbacks we pick up and discard when we're wandering around the world? Oh, that makes me sad. I'm going to go pet the weird green Penguins I bought in Navan now.
The Shaikh Zayed Book Prize was announced in Abu Dhabi this month. The central lifetime award went to Libyan author Ibrahim Al Koni. Al Koni has written over 50 books, and been translated into around 35 languages. His newest English release is the upcoming novel Gold Dust.
The Zayed is one of the emerging literary prizes celebrating Arabic fiction that are coming out of Abu Dhabi, which seems gripped by award frenzy. The most recent is the newly minted International Arabic Fiction Award.
Already dubbed 'The Arabic Booker,' the prize (to the tune of $10,000 for each shortlisted author and $50,000 for the winner) is a collaboration between the Emirates Foundation and the Booker Prize crew. Beyond that tasty cheque, the winner's novel will be translated for release by Granta.
June Rain by Jabbour Douaihy
The Land of Purgatory by Elias Farkouh
In Praise of Hate by Khaled Khalifa
Walking in the Dust by May Menassa
Swan Song by Mekkaoui Said
Sunset Oasis by Baha Taher
In other award news... While all of the finalists for the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction were "excellent in a distinct way", according to judge David Mitchell (not that one), the most distinct excellence was from the poet Lorna Goodison. Her title, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People excellently distinguished itself to the tune of $40,000.
With the current strength of the Canadian looney compared to the US dollar, Goodison may consider buying Arkansas and re-colonizing it with Montreal art rock bands.
February 08, 2008
"As a writer it's all about 'what if?'," he says. "There's this stream of memories and experiences that bump up against your stories. But Kellas isn't like me. I feel more similarity with Lieutenant Mutz in The People's Act of Love. There are also lots of bits of my life that I haven't given him," he continues, picking up steam. "For example, there was a moment in Afghanistan where I completely lost my temper with the drivers. I was at the end of my tether. I grabbed one of their guns and put the Kalashnikov to my forehead and said 'Shoot me, shoot me!' So it's not a memoir."
Oooh, the freak show known as Slate's Audio Book Club is back, and they're discussing Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, a book that evidently drives women mad. And men, because Stephen Metcalf starts sputtering about ball gags and "mounting" and calls the book "indefensible." It's fascinating how one little memoir can make people nuts. They're either deciding to run around the world for a year, too, and then are shocked that god does not reveal itself to them, or they're falling into a huge hate with the author. I think maybe I read an uncorrected review copy, and in the released version Elizabeth Gilbert ate some babies. That's why one should always wait for the finished copy.
February 07, 2008
Some weeks, I fret a little over the lead link, but other weeks, the gods smile: A clinic in Hastings sponsored a "sexual health poetry" contest for readers of the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer. Click the link for the winners, but special commendation goes to a pensioner's limerick: There was a young lady named Lydia, / Whose sex life just couldn't be giddier, / She cared not a rap for the pox or clap, / But was frightened to death of chlamydia. (Via University Diaries)
Or maybe I should have led with the track listing of Carla Bruni's new album (which will be reissued on the 19th) of poems interpreted as songs. She's got Yeats, Auden, Christina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare, Dickinson, and Dorothy Parker, among others. (Via choriamb.)
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats explains that craft and passion aren't at odds: If I say a band is "dedicated to their craft," that sounds boring and staid, right? Well, fuck you, then, Jack, with your antiquated half-recycled notions of how craft and intensity are somehow at odds. Craft is the path to the damn palace, and the palace's windows are all ablaze with the fire that's constantly raging in all the rooms, and it's not even uncomfortable for the people who live there, because they have become accustomed to the heat.
Linebreak is a clean new site that "features the work of a single poem by a single poet for the entire week." Linebreak publishes both the text and the audio of each poem, and you can listen to the recordings as a podcast. Up this week: A sonnet by Barry Ballard.
This radio show with Marie Buck is worth a listen.
I enjoyed Al Filreis's comments on pop surrealism: It's a steady diet of drive-in monster movies, Rat Pack playboys, prehistoric fantasy Flinestones immediately following the futurism of the Jetsons, cathode characters, the anti-Comics hysteria, the mayhem of a 1960-era Los Angeles hot-rod emporium - all combined and gone awry.
Speaking of pop surrealism, My department chair, Gil Gigliotti, is a Sinatra buff, and it turns out he's not alone: His new book, Sinatra: . . . but buddy, I'm a kind of poem, reprints a slew of poems that refer to the singer. Contributors range from Allen Ginsberg to David Trinidad to SuGar--150 pages of mobbed-up goodness. (Though I agree with contributor Aaron Fogel that "the luckiest man is he who never heard of Frank Sinatra.")
Steven Berlin Johnson takes on the recent NEA kerfluffle over reading: Simply excising screen-based reading from the study altogether is like doing a literacy survey circa 1500 and only counting the amount of time people spent reading scrolls.
Finally, in this month's column I explain what you can and can't expect from Freudian dream interpretation.After reading Richard Wirick's book One Hundred Siberian Postcards I asked him to write something about the illustrations used in the book. This is his response:
Richard Wirick: My book was an adoption memoir shot through with prose poems, short fictions and magic realism, tied together largely by the Russian landscape and the mixed fate of Siberia’s “Far Easterners.” The publisher insisted it be illustrated, the first such book they had put out under their new fiction imprint. Since the collection’s later narrative arch was set in an orphanage that had a primary school, I went to an expert on Lebedev, the fabulous modernist painter who had illustrated the Soviet childrens’ standard alphabet (“Azbuka”) with arctic animals’ bodies maneuvered into the shapes of letters and groups of phonemes. (The Lebedev scholar was also a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford and was vetting the anglicized Russian for transliteration accuracy). The Lebedev, once it came from New York collectors, seemed somehow wrong -- too precious, pedagogical and child-centered even for a book dealing largely with the first six months of an infant’s life in a Kuzbass (South Central Siberia) children’s home.
I knew of the great Polish ethnographer and illustrator Kreynovich -- as much as anyone could know. A fellow Siberiologist (Anna Reid) at the University of London got me stack passes to its fabled School of Slavonic and East European Studies, a Borges-like Library of Babel filled with slavists sitting on spiral staircases, primitive birch-bound abstracts laying open on their laps and filling with crumbs from their cracker lunches. Nothing, though they “sent down” runner after runner, bringing back dusty carts filled like mine buckets with chucks of crumbling texts. I also tried the other likely source, the Scott Polar research Center at Cambridge. We still could not find the woodcut from an elementary primer and instruction book that Anna had somehow dug up (she’d lost her notes), showing children washing in a school latrine and declining Siberian phrases for “When you get up in the morning, wash your hands, wash your ears, wash your face!”
Wandering with my art director (Patrick Bergel) through a majority of American university anthropology departments, we found the grail with Bruce Grant, a Siberian ethnographer at NYU. He not only knew of Kreynovich, but had gone to Sakhalin in the '90s to copy the likely primers himself, so taken was he with their primitive meticulousness. When the photocopies arrived in L.A., scenes from the frontier roads tumbled out of my mailbox like frosty ore. The language Kreynovich was preserving for the world was Nik’vh or Nikvh -- called Gilyak by Russians, Japanese and Alaskans -- a tongue (or yazik) whose written form was incipient but which was threatened with extinction by Stalin’s cultural Russification of the entire East.
The pamphlet, still stitched together with strings, was like a visual version of Sergei Platonov’s Among Animals and Plants (Far Eastern stories some of us had put our hands on but which will only be released in translation this December). It wasn’t just guides to hygiene and verb conjugations but etchings of outpost villages, half buried train depots, frogs and herons singing, and bears and porcupines and pictures of teachers and children of every conceivable ethnicity, all living literally at the end of the inhabitable world.
Patrick Bergel adapted many of the most compelling Kreynovich images and added primitive Siberian-style lettering to some. The cover is a blow-up of the original children’s hygiene picture. (A close second choice for cover was a ghostly, spectral photo, circa 1909, of an 11-year old Nivkh boy staring straight at the camera, in Japanese silks, smoking a pipe.)
Who, ultimately, was my artist? Where did he come from and how did he end up? The fin-de-siecle Petersberg anthropologist Lev Shternberg had trained an entire school of Far East focused scholars, and in 1905 was invited by the great American anthropologist Franz Boaz to New York and commissioned to write The Social Organization of the Gilyak, containing much of what we know of pre-revolutionary Sakhalin peoples. [Boaz and other readers were fascinated by the athletic sexuality of Gilyak women, one keeping fourteen lovers with the full approbation of her husband.] Kreynovich, being one of Shternberg’s prize pupils and having signed the latter’s ‘Ten Commandments of an Ethnographer’ (one being not to sleep with subjects’ wives), set out in 1924 with the Committee of the North to study the indigenous ‘Small-Numbered People’ of the great island. Shortly after arriving, Kreynovich contracted tuberculosis from a cup of Nivkh tea, being too polite to refuse it. Shortly after publication of the primer, he was accused of being a "Trotskyite-Zinoviyevite spy," and for five days NKVD guards beat him in relays and allowed him no sleep. Forced to sign a confession of terrorist bombing, he was shunted up to Kolyma and then transferred to a prison near Petersberg, continually working and gaining supervised access to research libraries.
After eighteen years in prison, and two years after Stalin’s death, he was released for “lack of evidence,” one of the first beneficiaries of the great intellectual thaw under Krushchev. He went to Shternberg’s grave at Petersberg Jewish Cemetery and knelt down, running his hands over the etched letters on his mentor’s stone: “All humankind is one.”
You can read Leslie Scalapino's introduction to The Collected Poems Philip Whalen online. I have been unable to put the book away since it got here. There's also a website with more links and such to Whalen's work.
While de Beauvoir wants women to know what they’re up against, she’s not going to tell you what to do. Part of me wishes she would. Especially since it is obvious that de Beauvoir would be incredibly disappointed that my mantra during setbacks is: “I can always get a lobotomy and marry a chiropractor.” I imagine her blowing cigarette smoke in my face and saying: “You want advice? Grow up.”
"*@#*! He's spellin' out forsooth again!"
This week I'm a day behind on everything for some reason (actually, I know the exact reason: a yard of French 75s. Oh, don't mix gin and champagne, for the love of all that is holy), so later today we'll have our Wednesday book design series, that should really have a name by now and doesn't. In the meantime, new issue! More Samuel Beckett references than any other issue!
Interviews with Natasha Trethewey! Douglas A. Martin! A profile of a publisher you should know! Melissa Lion is making homemade sourdough and giving me hippie Austin flashbacks! Elizabeth Bachner takes on those utterly disposable books of lists of other books! Other things as well!
Okay, time to catch up.
February 06, 2008
Things not helping my seasonal affective disorder (or, not so much "seasonal" as "days when you cannot cross the street without wading up to your knees in liquids you prefer not to think about") today:
This whole article about those people who write the Modern Love columns getting book deals instead of public shamings.
The first five words of Ceridwen Dovey's press release: "At only 27-years-old and beautiful". Forget about talent! She's profiled in Vogue!
Over at Seed, Will Self, who has been all over talking about his walking and his new book Psychogeography (the interviews are generally more interesting than the book itself), talks with genetic anthropologist Spencer Wells (The Journey of Man). They talk about walking (surprise!) and "the evolutionary consequence of urbanization."
Related, Gipi's publisher First Second Books has a guest blog post by Alexis Siegel about translating comics.
McSweeney’s -- A Dating Service for the Voice-Driven Novelist
I was at Powell’s the other day and at their love display was a little bookmark the store had put together of “Literary Lovers.” The usual suspects where there –- Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman start the list, while Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are the last entries. In between we get Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, the Fitzgeralds and the Woolfs –- though Virginia has two entries, her other pairing is Vita Sackville West.
And then there are a few McSweeney’s darlings in the list -– both darlings of the publisher and darlings to each other. Of course, the founder Dave Eggers and Vendela Vita, Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith and Nick Laird. Some of these people have written plot-y novels, but most can be summed up by that expression used by booksellers and publicists everywhere to sell a meandering, ambiguous book -– voice-driven.
I wondered if, instead of a grasp of plot, what it takes to be published by McSweeney’s is (after a strong, quirky, original voice, of course) bedding someone who has had the bright light of the Dave Eggers publishing empire shined on him or her.
I suppose I should pause here and say that it was a McSweeney’s author who, in the early days of Google, brought my attention to egosurfing -– the act of Googling your own name. And so when all of you hit this column in your late-night writing procrastination, rest assured, nothing I say here will change the fact that you have sold more books than I have.
I think McSweeney’s should totally do their own Literary Lovers bookmark. Not only because the graphics would be awesome, but it would give the rest of us voice-driven novelists an idea of who’s still available in case we’d like to be published by The Believer. Here’s a small list of other McSweeney’s author matches.
Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown (Baby, Mix Me a Drink, published by McSweeney’s)
Heidi Julavits and Ben Marcus (he wrote a short personal essay for The Believer about Robert Coover being his teacher)
Julie Orringer and Ryan Harty (contributed to McSweeney’s Future Dictionary of America)
Jonathan Lethem and Amy Barrett (Believer essay about her clogs.)
Even Miranda July’s beau gets some action. Mike Mills is featured on a Believer DVD.
Truth is, I have no idea if these people were single, then published in McSweeney’s and, along with the pirate shop and the very cool writing school for kids, Dave Eggers has set up an internet dating service for Believer-approved writers. Or perhaps, Dave calls up some of his cronies, says, "Hey, I have an idea for an essay about a completely random thing. The person tackling it ought to have an ironic, self-deprecating style but with enough ego to believe they can, and will, make the general public care about this random item. Do you know anyone?" And then the crony says, "Um, honey, Dave’s on the phone."
All I know is McSweeney’s has never called me up. And I don’t expect them to because, while I can name the 90210 episode within the first ten seconds of the theme song ending, I’m not quite self-deprecating enough to fit in with the McSweeney’s set. Instead, I’ll come out and say it: This skill makes me a fucking genius.
February 05, 2008
I should know better than to let myself be sucked into Dave Sim's crazy, but this online conversation between him and Gail Simone, where she tries to get him to explain why he thinks women are voids that suck out the life force of "the light" (i.e., men) and he tries to pretend like he just wants to help the pretty little ladies who aren't built for the cruel working world just ate an hour of my life. Thanks, Journalista.
Melissa Whitworth talks to the "fairy godmother" of girls and women, Judy Blume.
Peter Walsh thinks it's maybe the clothes on your floor that is making you gain weight, not the Doritos. He wrote a book called Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?
Peter Walsh, the bestselling author of It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, believes that the secret to successfully losing weight is to forget about calorie counting and weekly weigh-ins. Instead you need to focus on how, why, and where you eat. When it comes to clearing clutter (the fat in our homes) it isn't about the stuff itself, it's about the life you want to live. The same is true for losing weight: It's not about the pounds, it's about living the life you deserve in the body you want.
Using his expert techniques honed from years as a clutter expert and organizational consultant on TLC's Clean Sweep, Peter helps you address how the clutter in your kitchen, your pantry, and your home is directly related to the clutter on your body and negatively affects your ability to lead a full and healthy life.
Actually, Mr. Walsh, moving my clutter from where it belongs (on the floor, stacked against the walls, on top of my coffee table) to where it hides when people come over for dinner (to the office -- just shut the door and no one is the wiser) is the only exercise I get during Chicago Februaries. Well, that, and leaping over review books to get to my kitchen. See, more clutter is the answer! Make it impossible to get into your fridge! Someone give me a book deal.
February 04, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Peter Cole
Peter Cole is the Editor-in-Chief for Keyhole, a new literary magazine out of Nashville, TN which recently saw its inaugural publication this past fall. While editing Keyhole, Cole also performs under the name Autumn People and will be putting out an EP later this year. The second issue of Keyhole is scheduled for a late February release.
How and when did the idea for Keyhole come about?
Brandon Schultz, Jon Bergey, and I - the three editors of Keyhole - were eating at a Mexican restaurant when, in between bites of his mushroom enchilada, Jon randomly suggested that we start a journal. We all thought it was a good idea, and I'd been wanting to get involved with something like that anyway, so we put up a website and submissions eventually started coming in. That was in the Fall of 2006.
How do you personally fit into the scheme of things?
Of all the people involved in putting Keyhole together, I'm probably the least qualified to be the one in charge (that includes our intern--she's a Harvard graduate). I studied philosophy in college and never finished. I started off in high school wanting to be a writer, read a couple hundred books before I graduated, wrote some poetry, but somehow got derailed and started writing songs. I wanted to start a band, but getting people to play with you is hard in Music City. So I ended up with a bunch of acoustic folk songs and I'm really embarrassed of them. But in promoting music, I picked up some design skills, learned how to make websites, thought a lot about marketing and got some product-making experience. I carried all that over into what Keyhole is doing.
So I update the website, blog, and podcast. I run our myspace and virb and facebook pages. I spend a lot of time reading other blogs and finding ways to get connected with people. I have some part in the cover design, but I prefer to leave that up to the artist--a friend of mine, Sarah Stanley, will be doing the art for all of the issues this year. Mainly, I try to keep things rolling and on schedule. I collect the submissions and forward them to the editors. I usually read submissions as soon as I get them and I push for the ones I like. We decided that the best way to keep content quality high is to only use what we unanimously agree should be used. It makes it interesting. We have fairly similar taste, but we still disagree a lot and it leads to a lot of good discussions. I think it also doubles as a safeguard against being swayed by popular pressure.
How is Keyhole sustained? Does it function as a non-profit, or is it able to continue through a subscription base?
Coffee, alcohol, adrenaline, cigarettes.
We're considering being non-profit, but we've been really busy and haven't had much time to discuss it. For now Keyhole is funded mostly out of our own pockets. We have a small subscription base, but we've been mainly selling single copies. It's really easy to start a blog or website and call yourself a journal. And we've only put out one issue so far. I think we still need to prove that we're not going to fold and disappear.
Though no amount of money can make a good literary journal without good writers, and thankfully we're getting a lot of them thanks to word of mouth and Duotrope, Newpages, and Emerging Writers Network.
What do you hope to do with the magazine that other literary journals have not?
I'd like Keyhole to be the first literary journal shot into space. Though it's possible that's been done already, I don't know. Honestly, I really can't say that we'll be doing anything that hasn't already been done. There are so many journals it'd be hard to say with confidence.
One thing that may be different and hopefully beneficial: Most literary journals have long lists of contributors per issue, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But we've decided to keep our journal slim, each issue featuring around 10 contributing authors, hoping that it increases the publishing value for authors, given that it's more likely for people to read the whole thing. Apparently, people are reading less and less. Literary journals could be a solution to that problem. Start small with a poem or a short story, short enough to squeeze into busy schedules, commercial breaks and short attention spans.
I'd like to see the literary journal audience broaden. It seems that the majority of people who read literary journals are writers. I know lots of people who love good literature but don't think to pick up a literary magazine. I want to get those people reading journals--and not just ours. It'd be nice to see more people excited about new literary journals and authors in the same way we get excited about new music and new movies.
In the inaugural letter from the Editors, the question, "Where have all the writers gone?" is posed. What are you referring to?
Jon Bergey wrote that so I asked him to answer this question. He says:
"Once upon a time in America, writers were capable of being celebrities on par with the biggest movie stars, musicians, etc. That really isn't the case today. Part of that is certainly due to the media and television overload which bombards us, but I think part of that has to do with the fact that there are very few bestsellers that come out today which are truly great pieces of art. If you look at the New York Times best seller list - it's hard to imagine those books being studied in a collegiate literature class 50 years from now. There are definitely some exceptions to that. But for the most part, literature today is disposable."
Do you feel that solid, contemporary literary fiction is few and far between these days?
It does seem that way. It's out there, it's just not being widely published, if it is published at all. But there certainly are some great books that have been released in the last five, ten years. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Empire Falls by Richard Russo to name a few. But I refuse to believe that there aren't any great writers. Our society has simply limited the opportunities for great writers. But I'm optimistic that it'll get better. The internet is an asset. And Oprah.
February 02, 2008
Technical difficulties late Thursday pushed back these links, but they're not stale yet:
Two views on poetry as a career: Gabriel Gudding notes that "It is easy to succeed in the field of poetry. The problem is doing so in a way that is not disgusting.". (See also his arguably related post on declarative self-naming.) Meanwhile, at Eyewear, Todd Swift has bad news: It is not quite true, but almost true, that to have a collection published by a small, marginal press, in the UK (or Canada, for example) is the same as having no book out at all - in terms of entering into a dialogue with The Canon, with canonicity. Do you think poets like Paul Muldoon, or Simon Armitage, read you, little poet? Do you think critics like Helen Vendler, or Marjorie Perloff read you? Do you think that your work will ever be read, in future, when you are dead, by figures of similar weight and substance? (And don't miss Robert Archambeau's thoughtful reply.)
An interview with Mairead Byrne, plus three poems, at Lemon Hound: To see Patti Smith perform at a poetry reading is to get a glimpse of the gap between poetry & performance. But you do what you can.
Caoilinn Hughes's poems "dare to be completely outside reality."
PW profiles Jeff Clark, "one of poetry's most prolific and influential book designers."
Margaret Soltan offers the best advice possible for studying literature in school: Avoid professors who want you to apply literature like an ointment to your sorry ass.
Shiela Murphy interviews Tom Mandel, in two sessions separated by a decade.
This is more like fodder for a column, but I had no idea Lacan's Télévision (a long interview conducted by his son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, and broadcast on French TV) was available online at UbuWeb. Captivating. (And a diverting alternative to Ryan Seacrest's inane Super Bowl preview: Lacan in hidef!)
More YouTube goodies: Simon DeDeo, "The Fashions: apostrophe of Allan Bloom to Willow Rosenberg," | Derek Walcott reading from Tiepolo's Hound | Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool," set to pictures from the archives of the Farm Security Administration | "Will You Shoot Me Now?", by Adam Taylor | Finally, click around in the whole YouTube archive of meshworks, which features clips from Bernadette Mayers, Trevor Joyce, Rae Armantrout, and many more.
February 01, 2008
Kids writing poetry is creepy? Is that what she's saying? I can't make this Guardian blog thing make sense. And why are the Guardian book blog posts never any good at all? Either rework these entries into actual columns or shorten them by 85% and make them funny. I'm going back to reading discussion boards about last night's Lost episode now.
A little more champagne and we were talking about cock-sucking.
No book has made me gag more lately than Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers. Everyone who participated in that book should be ashamed of themselves and be punished with forced readings of The Second Sex. (Sorry, I read that book in one week and now it's taken over my brain.) Luckily we exist in the same world as Susan Faludi, and she is not amused.
Let’s imagine this book’s concept—30 well-known women writers talk about how they “feel” about Hillary Clinton—applied to 30 male writers and a male presidential candidate. Adjusting for gender, the essay titles would now read: “Barack’s Underpants,” “Elect Brother Frigidaire,” “Mephistopheles for President,” “The Road to Codpiece-Gate,” and so on. Inside, we would find ruminations on the male candidate’s doggy looks and flabby pectorals; musings on such “revealing” traits as the candidate’s lack of interest in backyard grilling, industrial arts and pets; and mocking remarks about his lack of popularity with the cool boys on the playground (i.e., the writers and their “friends”). We would hear a great deal of speculation about whether the candidate was really manly or just “faking it.” We would hear a great deal about how the candidate made them feel about themselves as men and whether they could see their manhood reflected in the politician’s testosterone displays. … And we would hear virtually nothing about the candidate’s stand on political issues.
"It may look extreme on the page," said Millet, who in person is warmer and more down to earth than her dry-ice literary voice might lead you to assume, "but they're not really that extreme. I've known a lot of them. I do like obsessive people. There's a lot of moderation in literary fiction right now, and I'm not interested in being a part of that."